Animal Science

Submitted by Steve Ridley

As the college academic offerings became more diversified in the late 1960s, the Department of Animal Science was organized to provide a separate major of that name. In order to provide specializations pertaining to the various aspects of animal agriculture, options or specializations (sub-majors) in meat animals, dairy science, equine science, and later food science were also developed.

Prior to the 1960’s most of the animal science courses were developed and taught by Dr. A.N. Johnson, Professor of Animal Science and Farm Manager. Prior to Johnson’s retirement, Dr. Leland Wittwer was hired in 1958. Wittwer’s main subject area was Animal Nutrition, a required course for virtually all students in the college, and a course that quickly led to Wittwer’s legendary reputation as a teacher. In 1960 Dr. James Dollahon, an equine specialist, joined the faculty and taught a variety of courses. In addition to courses in animal science, Dollahon was assigned (one assumes out of dire necessity) a course in horticulture. One alumnus recalled that during his first horticulture class period with Dollahon (who was obviously a non-expert), the professor told the students that he was currently on page 15 of the textbook, and he challenged the students to “catch up with me if you can.”

The department grew rapidly, and Dollahon’s appointment was followed by those of additional specialists: Don Hargrove, a beef specialist became Chairman of the department in 1964. Dick Gray joined the department in 1965, and R.P. “Peery” Johnston (dairy) in 1966. Dean Henderson, a meats specialist, was hired in 1968.

R.P. "Perry" Johnston (center) with Bill Mahanna and Gary Rohde

R.P. “Perry” Johnston (center) with Bill Mahanna and Gary Rohde

Dr. Gray succeeded Dr. Hargrove as department chairman in 1969 when Hargrove was granted leave by the University for a two-year contract with the US Agency for International Development in Brazil. Hargrove stayed on in Brazil and did not return to UWRF. Dollahon, Johnston and Henderson can be credited with the development of the modern department which by the mid-1970’s also included a new major, Food Science and Technology. A stand-alone Dairy Science major followed in 2000.

R.P. Johnston followed Dick Gray as department chair in the early 1970’s while he continued to teach classes in dairy science and agricultural biochemistry. A chronic illness forced his early retirement in 1975. Nevertheless Johnston continued to report for work on a daily basis. He mentored younger faculty and continued to work tirelessly as an unpaid consultant and provided leadership in bringing the College into the computer age. Johnston passed away in 1978.

Rae Johnston, Peery’s widow, who had been educated in dairy technology, joined the College following her husband’s death, working part-time as an administrative assistant in the Animal Science Department and the Plant and Earth Science Department. Rae provided the following article as a snapshot of life around the campus in the early days after the Johnston’s and their two children relocated to River Falls.

Our Early Years in River Falls.
by Rae Johnston

Rae Johnston

Rae Johnston

It was an exciting time when we came here in 1966, as it was the first year the present Agricultural Science Building was open.

1966 and the next several years were the great growth years for the College of Agriculture and for the Animal Science Department. Gary & Helen Rohde, Al & Shirley Beaver, John & Carolyn Cain, and Jerry & June Matteson came in 1966, the same year R.P. (Peery) Johnston and I, with our two young children, came to River Falls.

The department men had found us a place to live in River Falls, Dick and Marcia Gray graciously put us up for several days until our furniture arrived. It was a wonderful welcome to a family very far away from home. The wives were able to stay at home instead of working, at this point and we had parties, potluck meals and cookouts, and enjoyed each other and started friendships that endured over the years.

During the late 1960’s, as soon as school started in the fall, the Gray’s would invite all the College families for a potluck picnic at their beautiful home on the Kinni. It was a great time of good food and good fellowship, space for the kids and a good way for all the departments to mingle. Over the years there have been various Christmas parties, the party after the Ag Banquet and College get-togethers that helped build the College as we know it now.

In 1966, there were three professors teaching in the Animal Science department, Dr. Lee Wittwer, Dr. Don Hargrove and Dr. Dick Gray. My husband, R.P. Johnston, was hired to teach mainly Dairy Science classes but also  taught Ag Biochemistry.

The ag lounge in the basement of the Ag Science Building was a great gathering spot and many lively discussions of university interest and interaction among departments were held and ideas exchanged. the men also enjoyed some yearly canoeing and fishing trips that brought about “bonding” among the faculty and provided time to get to know each other a bit better. The entire College faculty was small enough that people from the other colleges across campus met in the student center for coffee and many campus issues were discussed, debated and solved.

Our Dean, Jim Dollahan, and some of his friends were managing a summer horse program/course called “Horses A to Z” and his interset in the horses, and relationship with Jack Brainerd helped get UW-River Falls into having a horse program. In 1972, Jack Brainerd taught the first Colts in Training class. Jack supplied the colts, and it soon became evident that one barn and the old pavilion, plus the lack of knowledge on the student’s part did not make for a good situation.

I was fortunate enough to enroll in the first colt class, and it was a great experience and learning process for us all. It soon became evident that this class was missing a rewarding climax for all the work that had been done with the colts. In the spring of 1976 it was decided to have a sale of the colts before the students went home at the end of the semester.

The cold sale has come a special show providing needed recognition of our students’ abilities with the horses. the Colts in Training Sale brings a lot of visitors to the University Farm and they are very impressed with our facilities, especially the colt barn connected to the indoor arena. The horse program has come a long way from training horses on the snow covered front lawn of Farm 1 to the herd of school horses used for classes, a breeding program and the facilities we have now.

In 1973, Larry Kasten was hired for the program, teaching horse related subjects and monogastric nutrition. The horse program has grown both in the number of animals the university now owns and the facilities, especially with the beautiful colt barn and the indoor arena. This growth has required more staff and there are now three equine instructors. Students are competing and doing very well at district, state and national competitions. River Falls is known as an excellent horse science school.


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